When the Klaxons split in 2014 there was something of an inevitability about the whole process following the ambitious but overcooked ‘Surfing The Void’ and their mediocre-at-best third LP ‘Love Frequency’. The term “split” nowadays can be meaningless, with the potential to act more like a crude, money-grabbing opportunity where said group go into hiding and wait for the perfect moment to cash in and reform. James Righton, keyboardist and vocalist for the band, began his move towards solo artist nearly two years ago when he relocated to the South of France to record what would become his ‘Open Up The Sky’ EP.
His new project, Shock Machine, doesn’t possess the same unnerving sense of abandon and urgency that made the new rave flag bearers such an intriguing but unlikely mini-pop culture phenomenon. The songwriting is more mature and streamlined too but this is somewhat expected. Ultimately, the music never veers too far from his previous band’s formula, favouring laidback psychedelic grooves and wobbling synth sounds. The hands of esteemed indie producer and Simian Mobile Disco member James Ford add a muscular depth to Righton’s dreamy soundscapes.
Ford’s presence is felt perhaps most strongly on the simpler, playful tracks, such as the yearning, ‘Lost In The Mystery’ or ‘Unlimited Love’, which is accentuated by galloping bass rhythms and an insistently catchy chorus line. ‘Fire In My Heart’ is the Klaxon’s ‘Echoes’ reimagined as an unabashed pop banger, which just about works. Huge, fizzling synth washes seep through ‘Let Her Love In’, which threatens to stall but is eventually overtaken by a thrillingly hypnotic, oscillating outro.
Problems do begin to materialise throughout the record’s longer, more expansive tracks. ‘Open Up The Sky’ and the title track feel particularly repetitive without going anywhere and both suffer from a lack of editing. The only exception is the superb closer ‘Something More’, which builds gracefully and organically towards a droning, chaotic fade-out. Melodically, it’s also the most well conceived track, sporting ethereal backing vocals and an icy refrain during the coda that ensure the record ends on a memorable high.
You can’t help but feel, however, that Righton’s contemporaries do this so much better. Regardless of what one’s opinion may be of the Klaxons and their previous work, it’s undeniable that they were trendsetters in a vibrant music scene, even if for a relatively brief period. Mostly, ‘Shock Machine’ is a success and there’s plenty of fun, breezy psychedelic pop nuggets to please fans. It’s just a shame that the clear sense of identity which was so heavily infused into Righton’s previous project is not as present here.
Words: Luke Winstanley
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